You are here:

Portsmouth Grammar School

Students at Portsmouth Grammar School studying local war memorials © S Lemieux, 2012
Students from Portsmouth Grammar School studying a local war memorial © S Lemieux, 2012
Students from Portsmouth Grammar School studying a local war memorial © S Lemieux, 2012
  • County name: Hampshire
  • Group/School name: Portsmouth Grammar School
  • Age group: 11 - 18
  • Group type: Year 9



By way of a slightly different post exam and end of year project, I decided to trial a project on war memorials with my Year 9 class. We had studied the Great War in some depth the previous term, but focused much more on causes and trench life than commemoration. Many had also been to Ypres and visited the war cemeteries and war memorials such as the Menin Gate. Also, the immediate area around the school is replete with memorials to many campaigns and individuals, yet I suspected (correctly) that pupils had a limited awareness of them. As the memorials were a close walk away, a field visit to them was straightforward and undertaken during a normal lesson of 40 minutes. I was keen that the pupils were made aware of the sheer variety of memorials, their purposes, the threats to them and the impact of location.



All pupils were issued with a workbook where they made notes on the various purposes of war memorials (a place of individual pilgrimage, national thanksgiving and a desire for peace thereafter etc) and we discussed the controversies concerning commemoration. These included who should be involved in the decision-making, what designs were appropriate/inappropriate, should civilians, those who returned alive and deserters be commemorated, should the fallen be commemorated in other more ‘useful’ ways such as war memorial village halls and hospitals. The class then looked at a couple of recent newspaper articles about metal theft from war memorials and the Bomber Command Memorial in London, to see how war memorials can feature in current affairs, and the issues around them. We also invited in a local historian to talk about some of the war memorials in Portsmouth. The class was then shown a PowerPoint with images of different war memorials around the UK by way of explanation about the different designs and styles, and the class discussed which ones ‘worked’ best. They were then allocated other selected memorials which were more unusual and unconventional to research and fed back to the rest of the class. The pupils then split into two groups to visit a range of local war memorials ranging from the Napoleonic period to the Falklands war, and completed a questionnaire on the memorials they looked at. The final piece of work was reflective, where they were asked to write up their overall thoughts and experience of the project and what they had learnt. Some of their comments included:

  • "I have learnt why we have war memorials. We have them to commemorate loved ones who died for their country and their family. It is also a place where you can pray for them and remember others who didn't necessarily die fighting - those that were bombed in their homes as well."
  • "One of the most interesting war memorials for me is the Unknown Soldier. This is because it is one with no names but it remembers the people who never came back and were never found or identified."
  • "Some people disrespect war memorials and do not understand the meaning of them and what the people who are commemorated on them went through. I believe memorials should be better looked after because otherwise it is disrespectful to the people who died and their families."



Most pupils really enjoyed the project, and typically felt it made them look twice at war memorials. They were much more aware of the sheer variety of designs and approaches, and intrigued at the huge range of who was commemorated: animals, women, blitz victims, dockyard workers, minority religious groups as well as members of the armed services. They also appreciated the opportunity to learn about History on their doorstep and to go out of the classroom – it helped we had picked a sunny day! As with any trial, there will be a few tweaks for next year but it was definitely a worthwhile learning experience for all of us.

Simon Lemieux, Head of History and Politics, The Portsmouth Grammar School.

An update to our privacy policy

This site uses cookies to help us keep the site relevant and to make your experience better. To comply with recent EU legislation we need to ask for your consent in using these cookies on your computer. For a full list of exactly how we use cookies on this site please read our Cookie Policy.

Please note: By NOT accepting cookies you will experience some reduction in functionality of this site. By continuing to use our site we will assume an implied consent.

I accept

This notice should appear only the first time you visit the site.